Tag Archives: Gunnar Gunnarsson

Splitting the Earth Wide Open

In his novel Sworn Brothers, Gunnar writes engagingly of opening the green skin of the earth, forming it into an arch, and swearing an oath beneath it, before the sod is closed again, taking the oath into deep memory and deep time. So was the voyage that led to the founding of Iceland undertaken, with a few nudges from Oðin, that clever wanderer. One can see signs of this story throughout Iceland today. Have a look. The cairns will guide you to the opening.

Here we are at Geirstaðakirkja. Romantic, huh. Sturdy Viking stuff, machine-planed and the works. Note how the earth is split around the church, in traditional Icelandic turf house style. It’s a thing.

Note as well, that it’s not as romantic as it looks. Whew.

Even a Viking-Christian God needs some water for his sheep and a spare battery for his truck, and where to put that stuff, why, in behind the altar. Naturally. Power is power. But I jest. Look more closely at the surroundings. Here is Gunnar’s split Earth again. This time, a boulder broken by frost, and frost in Iceland is a force from beyond the world and deadly to humans.

Ironically, it also opens the Earth for them, and who steps forth but Lazarus drawn forth by the hand of Christ. You can go into their shared grave in the Earth…

… and you can step out again as a different person, into a different world, one cleansed by the journey…

… and then you can feast.

And then? Why, cross the sea.


With grass breaking across your prow and the wind for a sail.

What You Need Right Now Might Just Be an Icelandic Rock

After a long time between languages, it’s time to go down to the shore.

 

And pick up magic rocks and hold them in. your hand.

And put them down.

And leave them there to talk to the sun in their nonhuman tongues.

And walk back up through the library of the birch forest.

And the lair of dragons.

Give one last glance to the lake.

And go back to the skáldverk in silence.

And begin again.

Not All Trolls Need Take on Animal Shape

Being stone is enough when you are stone.


Litlafoss

Gunnar Gunnarsson called basalt like this the chain-linked rhymes of traditional Icelandic verse. He meant, I think, nothing is unlinked. This raven, for instance, flying above that stone…

 

…nests in it. Poetry is natural architecture, in Gunnar’s world.

Why Gunnar Gunnarsson Did Not Win the Nobel Prize

In 1955, the Icelandic writer Halldór Laxness, Genius of Wordsmithing, Bane of Gunnar Gunnarsson the Scold, won the Nobel Prize, which Gunnar, who had friends in high Scandinavian places like Copenhagen and Oslo, thought would be his. Here’s Halldór, looking like the 1920s in 1984.

Halldór is rightfully famous for a number of books, but perhaps most importantly for Independent People, his masterpiece of Icelandic stubbornness, lack of planning and general nrrrghhhhh!

The Ogre of Dritvik

“Nrrrghhhhh!”

Right, here is the ogre in book form:

Sjálfstætt Fólk: Self-Standing People

In translation, it loses a little something:

And that’s the irony, eh. Gunnar and Halldór thought they were competing for a literary prize, but, really, it was a political one. In 1955, NATO needed Iceland as a military base blocking Soviet access out of the Arctic, which means it needed it to be independent, and with Icelandic leanings towards communism, who better than a reformed communist like either Gunnar or Halldór? Perfect. Even better, Halldór wrote like an American, while Gunnar wrote like a German, all tangled up with prayers and poetry and other bits and pieces of Icelandic Nrrrghhhhh!. Here, let his neighbour today show you:

“Nrrrghhhhh!”

Gunnar translated this neighbourly chat into his book Advent, which the Americans translated, complete with skis like a bazooka and a fur hat like a military helmet, to secure their WWII military base on Iceland:

Neither of them in their little wrestling match quite understood that right. Halldór’s Nobel prize speech is an example:

But if an Icelandic poet should forget his origin as a man of the people, if he should ever lose his sense of belonging with the humble of the earth, whom my old grandmother taught me to revere, and his duty toward them, then what is the good of fame and prosperity to him?

A dig at Gunnar, I’d say, who wangled his writing into fame on the European continent, especially with his friends in the German Propaganda Ministry, for whom he, nonetheless, wrote books about Icelandic peasants who would have been right at home in Halldór’s Independent People, although, ahem, Halldór also left Iceland when he was 17, and lived for decades abroad, mostly on the European continent, and it’s all so sad now, that old politics, because somewhere in their time, someone broke a shovel handle at Kirkujubær and just left it there in a spate of “Nrrrghhhhh!” (you can find it still, today at the sheepfold, one of Gunnar’s favourite spaces)…

In Gunnar’s Iceland, both wood and shovel would have been untold wealth.

… while the modern world that replaced that fierce stubbornness has also gone to ruin now for the same reasons:

“Nrrrghhhhh!, Back to Reykjavik!”

Ah, perhaps, we might give Halldór the last word:

It is not so strange perhaps that my thoughts turned then – as they still do, not least at this solemn moment – to all my friends and relations, to those who had been the companions of my youth and are dead now and buried in oblivion. Even in their lifetime, they were known to few, and today they are remembered by fewer still. All the same they have formed and influenced me and, to this day, their effect on me is greater than that of any of the world’s great masters or pioneers could possibly have been.

After all, not just the Nrrghhhhh but also the wealth remains:

Horse-Drawn Wealth-Spreader Waiting for Resurrection

Skriðuklaustur

Now that the West needs Iceland as a military base once more, I think we can expect the Nobel Committee to turn its eyes to Iceland once again, and writers being writers, I think we can be pretty sure that they will talk about words. Meanwhile…

The ogre waits.

Rock Sorts Water

Yesterday, I shared some pictures of the mystery of water sorting rock, and suggested that this knowledge we all know when we walk along the shore. Instantly. It works the same the other way.
Straumeyri


Stekkalaekur (x3)

Human intelligence flows out and flows in at the same time when you live on an island in the middle of the great grey sea.



Gunnar’s Journey to Atlantis (Islands in the Open Sea), Awaiting Translation

Icelandic Architecture: Thinking Small

Werner Daitz

Werner Daitz,the architect of Hitler’s concept of claiming Lebensraum (existential space) from Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonian, Finns, Czechs, Slovaks, Jews, Serbs and Ukrainians, updated his arguments in 1943, after the debacle of Stalingrad. On the principle that the fate of no one people was at stake but of Europe as a whole, he wrote in The Europe Charter:

A healthy life is only possible when every individual being, just like every naturally-occurring community, follows the Rule of Self-Sufficiency: as a foundational principle, to live in its own space and from its own strength — which is to say to live a non-imperial life. Imperial life is an unhealthy life for an individual, just as it is for a community. And, as it is today [1943], when the Individual human being has the “freedom” to lead an unhealthy life but only at the price of its own decline or to join a partnership under the pressure of an emergent crisis, so does a family, or a family of peoples, also have the undeniable freedom to temporarily lead an unhealthy — an imperial — life. But then it must either return from the compromises demanded by emergent crisis to an autonomous life or disappear.

Ralph Giordano

The article is a chapter in Dietz’s 1943 book The Rebirth of Europe through European Socialism. Daitz inspired Gunnar Gunnarsson’s friend, the architect Fritz Höger, after he spoke to the Nordic Society, a pan-Baltic, cross-cultural association of folk-based writers, which included Gunnar. Remember, though, that “European Socialism” in this context means “Nazism” and “Rebirth” means “the normalization of life after war.” As to what that normalization means, we can thank Ralph Giordano, from Höger’s Hamburg, who hid in a basement for the duration of Daitz’s war, as his father was Jewish and “freedom” meant the freedom to die in Auschwitz. In 1989, Giordano published a book titled What if the Nazis Had Won the War. He noted that Best, who had experience administering the Danes, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians through the German terror, developed a four-level administrative model:

 

 

Every people must look after itself, after looking after the continental administrators [Germans].

Every people must manage its own affairs, as representatives of the German government.

The central government of every people must work within the oversight of representatives of the Race of Leaders.

Under no circumstances will a replaced people participate in the government at any level.

Brutal stuff.  In the light of Best’s practical experience, it’s highly likely that Dietz meant that a return to normalcy meant a return to the world of folktale, with all other peoples replaced in order to forestall the creation of a liberal state or melting pot in which individual cultures would disappear. Höger and Gunnar, who met Daitz in 1932, took different lessons from Daitz’s existential war — different from Daitz’s above and from each others’. Höger tried to become the national architect of the Third Reich, to build buildings representing German folk traditions, and failed. Hitler wanted the imperial roman wedding cake architecture of Albert Speer. Gunnar left the continent to live the life as a modern German farmer in Iceland, in a house that Höger built.

Skriðuklaustur

The idea was likely to merge German-inspired administrative skill with Icelandic farm life, to enable more people to succeed on the land. No doubt, the plan was also to avoid Hitler’s war. Note that the building’s turf roof is an echo of old Icelandic turf houses, while the stonework is solid and North-German. Well, not really. Those rocks were supposed to have been square cut, but Gunnar’s Icelandic workmen could find no cuttable stone, so on their own, independent Icelandic initiative, drove down to the Hengifossá River (to the right) and brought home some river rocks and worked with that. The result is comic. Höger was incensed. It’s kind of a fairytale house as a result, but I’m proud of those Icelanders. They broke all of Best’s rules, all at once, even before he started planning the invasion of Denmark in April, 1940. Here they are again:

Every people must look after itself, after looking after the continental administrators [Germans].

Every people must manage its own affairs, as representatives of the German government.

The central government of every people must work within the oversight of representatives of the Race of Leaders.

Under no circumstances will a replaced people participate in the government at any level.

 

All broken! Even more lovely: for all his ambiguity and his bad choice in friends, Gunnar got it right too and also broke most of those laws, going so far as to tell Hitler the following in March, 1940, in his speech Our Land:

But one must always have the effect on the landscape at front of one’s mind and guard against mistreatment. For the way the landscape is treated is the way the people are treated. If tastelessness becomes the norm in the Icelandic landscape, gets a roothold and spreads widely, it will soon become visible in the spiritual life of the people as well. Perhaps there are already signs of this today.

In other words, none of Speer’s architecture and its imperial pretensions in Iceland, not for Gunnar. The Icelanders would look after their land themselves. None of this kitsch:

Just this:

And a day’s drive to the East, this:

And, everywhere, this kind of thing:

There’s more than one way to knock the stuffing out of imperialism.

Gunnar’s Message to the War

Gunnar Gunnarsson described Iceland to the Germans in 1940 as “Our Land.” This land:

Not Exactly Germany

It was a typical game for this sly trickster.

Gunnar Even Conned Me Out of My Hat

Doesn’t he look pleased!

Did he mean, “Your land and mine,” after his novel Blood Brothers?

From the German Book Club Edition of 1933.

Or did he mean “The land of all Icelanders and no one else,” after his 1933 novel Vikivaki?

The 2011 German Edition

A ghost story combining The Little Prince, a Dance of the Dead, and Jacob’s Ladder.

Well, he was playing it both ways, as usual. But then, he was a poet.

And to poets, answers lie in the water, the sky and the land. He meant one thing only:

Bring no war to this place. It is who we are and all we are. No argument.

You can read the heart here, if you’re a poet. If you’re not, isn’t it about time?